British Sign Language (BSL) is to be accepted as an alternative to functional skills for apprentices for the first time, the government has announced.
The Department for Education has today confirmed that first language BSL users will no longer be required to take functional skills in English, and will instead be able to take BSL qualifications. Currently, all apprentices have to pass English functional skills tests before they can complete their course.
The announcement follows recommendations made by Paul Maynard in May 2016 to help more people with learning disabilities gain access to apprenticeships. It is estimated that around 1,000 deaf people under the age of 25 take an apprenticeship each year.
'The chance to succeed'
Apprenticeships and skills minister Robert Halfon said: “I am committed to breaking down barriers to ensure people of all ages and all backgrounds get on the ladder of opportunity through an apprenticeship.
“For those whose first language is BSL, this simple change will allow them to achieve their full potential. I look forward to implementing more changes like this to make sure apprenticeships can work for as many people as possible, whatever their background.
"More people with disabilities have been taking advantage of high quality apprenticeships. Figures show that in 2015-16, 50,640 of those starting an apprenticeship declared a disability or learning disability. This is 9.9 per cent of total starts and an increase of 14.8 per cent on 2014-15. High quality apprenticeships are essential to support our employers and address skills shortages facing industry so that everyone, regardless of background, gets the chance they deserve to succeed. English and maths are a key element of this."
Brian Gale, policy and campaigns director at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “We’re delighted that the government has committed to these changes, because it was making it very challenging for some deaf young people to complete their courses.
“BSL is a totally different language, so for users to meet this kind of academic standard is a much bigger challenge than it would be for a native English speaker. We heard from parents whose deaf children who were doing brilliant work in their apprenticeships but being held back by that, which they understandably felt was unfair."